FACTS & STATS: Site: FAU Stadium (30,000) -- Boca Raton, Florida. Television: None. Home Record: Tulane 4-1, FAU 0-2. Away Record: Tulane 2-1, FAU 2-4. Neutral Record: Tulane 0-0, FAU 0-0. Conference Record: Tulane 4-0, FAU 1-4. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Off to their best start since 1998, the Tulane Green Wave will try to carry their momentum to Boca Raton on Saturday for a Conference USA clash with the Florida Atlantic Owls.
Despite the absence of their injured starting quarterback Nick Montana in their last two appearances, the Green Wave are riding into FAU Stadium on a four-game winning streak that was extended last week with a 14-7 home triumph over Tulsa. The decision snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Golden Hurricane.
Tulane has been one of the biggest surprises in the C-USA this season as no one expected much after a 2-10 finish to the 2012 campaign. Second-year head coach Curtis Johnson has turned some heads while leading his squad to a 6-2 overall record, which includes a perfect 4-0 league standing. Tulane and Rice (5-0) are the only two undefeated teams left in C-USA action. They are scheduled to meet in the final week of the season.
FAU returns to league play at 2-6 after being routed, 45-10, last week at Auburn. The Owls have had quite the week, as head coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis are no longer with the program. The school accepted both their resignations after an investigation into illegal drug use came to light. Brian Wright, the team's offensive coordinator, will take over as interim head coach going forward.
Although the Owls are just 1-4 versus league rivals, they came up just short against Middle Tennessee (42-35), Rice (18-14) and Marshall (24-23), who have a combined 9-3 C-USA record. FAU has actually outscored its opposition, 95-89, at FAU Stadium despite its 1-2 home record.
This will be the first meeting in history between these schools. It will also be the last encounter as conference foes due to Tulane's planned departure for the American Athletic Conference for the 2014 season.
Since Montana has gone down, redshirt freshman Devin Powell has led Tulane to a 36-33 triple-overtime victory over East Carolina and a long awaited win over the defending C-USA champion. Powell earned the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week honor after registering new career-highs with 23 completions on 39 attempts for 224 yards and two touchdowns against ECU. He followed up his magnificent starting debut with a sub par showing last week and finished 17- of-29 for 164 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
There is a strong chance that Montana, who is the son of NFL Hall-of-Fame Joe Montana, will be fully recovered to face the Owls. The junior signal caller completed 55.7 percent of his passes to efficiently amassed 1,116 yards and 10 touchdowns against four interceptions through six games.
The Green Wave are in the middle of the pack in the C-USA in scoring at 27.4 ppg despite ranking 12th out of 14 teams in total offense (316.2 ypg). Senior wideout Ryan Grant is the focal point of the attack. He is the second leading receiver in the conference with 700 yards on 53 receptions. Grant's total of seven touchdown catches is pacing the C-USA and is the most recorded by a Tulane player since the 2009 season. Tulane's rushing output has risen from just 39.6 ypg in 2012 to 117.1 ypg this year thanks to the combination of Orleans Darkwa (469 yards, six TDs, 4.3 ypc) and Rob Kelley (346 yards, two TDs, 5.0 ypc).
Defensively, Tulane has thrived due to its ability to force its opposition into mistakes. Johnson's team is ranked third nationally in takeaways with 24 and has converted those miscues into 68 points. The Green Wave have picked off 15 passes which gives them the highest interception total in the C-USA and the third most among FBS schools. They are among the conference leaders in scoring defense as well with an allowed average of 23.8 points. Sam Scofield was rightfully named the C-USA Defensive Player of the Week award on Monday for his unbelievable effort versus Tulsa. He finished the contest with 18 tackles, 1.5 TFL, one forced fumble and two pass breakups. It has clearly been a total group effort this season, considering Scofield was the seventh Green Wave player to earn the league's weekly honor this season.
FAU has not found much success offensively this season, ranking in the bottom half of the C-USA in both scoring (20.8 ppg) and yardage (356.9 ypg), while committing 16 turnovers.
Jaquez Johnson is the leader of the inconsistent Owls' attack. The sophomore scrambler is completing 58.9 percent of his attempts to net only 148.5 yards per game through the air with six touchdowns and five interceptions. Johnson is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the league, which has helped him contribute 394 yards and six touchdowns to the rushing game. Greg Hankerson has seen action under center as well, but Johnson has a firm grasp of the starting role.
Johnson is FAU's second leading rusher behind Jonathan Wallace, who has rushed 110 times for 530 yards and three scores. Daniel McKinney (37 receptions, 397 yards) and William Dukes (28 receptions, 390 yards, four TDs) form a decent receiving tandem.
The Owls were no match for Auburn last week. The Tigers finished with 27 first downs compared to just 10 for the Owls. They also powered their way to 444 rushing yards with a 7.2 yard per carry average against FAU's defense. The squad is ranked seventh in the 14-team league in both scoring defense (28.4 ppg) and total defense (392.6 ypg.). Linebacker Andrae Kirk anchors the team with 58 tackles, while defensive back D'Joun Smith has a team-best four interceptions.
Tulane could find itself in trouble in this one as the Owls have already played a few of the top teams in the conference down to the wire. However, it remains to be seen just how the change at the top will affect FAU. The Green Wave's ability to stifle the run will help them counteract FAU's speedy quarterback and running back duo. Tulane will need to find a way to produce more points to take pressure off its defense and the return of Montana could be the remedy.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulane 23, Florida Atlantic 21
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